FFAR - Integrated cattle and crop production project

FFAR - Integrated cattle and crop production project

cattle feeding in a field

FFAR LogoIn 2017 the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research awarded $1 Million Grant to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for a 5 year project on Enhancing Animal Protein Production through Crops and Cattle.

The aim of this project is to increase the efficiency of land use by increasing the amount of food produced per acre by incorporating beef cattle onto cropping systems while improving ecosystem services to ensure resiliency and sustainability.

This grant is in concert with on-going work by the Beef Systems Initiative, a statewide research and extension effort to optimize Nebraska beef production in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner.

Updates and Activities

Ag lenders offer insight on conditions for Nebraska livestock producers

Nebraska Extension works with focus group to identify needs of producers using integrated cropping and cattle systems in Southeastern Nebraska

A focus group of producers was held in August of 2022 to learn about the most important issues that need to be addressed by Nebraska Extension.  The day-long discussion resulted in the identification of 5 top priorities.

Top 5 Priorities Identified      

  1. Decreasing feed costs. What are the competitive advantages that should be exploited in our integrated systems?  What opportunities are there to reduce feed costs by capitalizing on resources such as cover crops, crop residues and strategic supplementation. How can nutrient utilization be increased? How do we ensure we are selecting the right genetics for the environment?
  2. Making money from grazing forage rather than cultivating row crop on the same land. Can annual or perennial forages be cost competitive with cash crops on marginal land? How do we optimize management of these forage?
  3. Attracting the next generation of cattle producers. How to foster interest in agriculture in our youth? How to create opportunities for the younger generation to enter into production?
  4. Comparing cows and stockers on the same system. Which is more profitable in eastern NE, cow/calf production or running stockers? What are key management practices?
  5. Managing pastures for simplified weed control. How to control cedars without a lot of extra time and labor?  

Comparison of Partially Confined and Traditional Cow-Calf Systems

Over the past 4 years an alternative cow-calf system in which cows were drylotted in the late spring and summer, grazed cover crops in the fall and corn residue in the winter has been evaluated. A summary of the results can be found here.

2021 Beef Systems Initiative Workshop.

The BSI team provided an update on some of what they have learned and the progress made over the past three years. A recording of the presentations is available online.

Ag lenders perspective on developing an integrated beef enterprise.

A group of Ag lenders were gathered to provide their perspectives about the important information that should be communicated to producers who are considering developing an integrated beef enterprise.

Key themes came up consistently during the discussion including:  

  1. Cash flow sensitivity analysis - All of the lenders emphasized the importance of completing a thorough cash flow analysis. A three-year cash flow projection would be ideal to provide to a lender when seeking a loan for a new enterprise or an enterprise expansion.
  2. Cattle industry learning curve - Several lenders expressed concerns about the cattle industry learning curve for producers looking to add a cattle enterprise to their operation. One lender described looking for evidence that the producer has a commitment to the cattle industry with a good network of people to work with.
  3. Beginning farmer barriers - All of the lenders acknowledged that significant barriers impede the flow of new and beginning farmers and ranchers getting started in the business. Land costs place a tremendous burden on cash flow commitments. At present, there is little chance for the younger generation to start without investor help or significant off-farm income.

For more details check out the Cornhusker Economics article.

Needs of producers using integrated cropping and cattle systems. Five focus groups with 43 innovative producers were held in Lincoln, Norfolk, Holdrege, Broken Bow, and Scottsbluff. These producers were asked to discuss barriers, and research needs regarding integrated cow/calf and cropping systems.

Five common items were identified as either an education or research gap by each focus group:

  1. Evaluate each integrated system as a whole system in terms of economics, risk, and adaptability to markets and weather.  
  2. Explore options to extend the grazing season for early spring and late fall forage deficiencies. 
  3. Develop management practices that reduce disease incidences in young calves.
  4. Refine the energy requirements of drylot cows.
  5. Investigate variability of cattle response when grazing corn residue.

A list of the top priorities that each location identified is also available.

Reducing cow feed costs using cropland: In a joint effort, Nebraska, Missouri and Iowa Extension hosted a three meetings as a part of the Three State Beef Conference to address opportunities to use forage from cropland for early spring, winter and fall forage. 

The topics covered included using annual forages, grazing corn residue and using silage. A good summary of annual forage options for filling in the late fall and early spring forage gaps is provided in the article "Considerations for using annual forages cost effectively". Grazing of corn residue is one of the most cost effective ways to winter beef cows with no negative impacts on the soil or subsequent crop yield when grazed at the appropriate stocking rate.  The article "Myths and merits of grazing corn residue" provides a summary of the research on stocking rate, supplementation needs and impacts on the soil and subsequent crops. Silage production is another forage production opportunity but the key to making it cost effective is proper management. The Hay and Forage Grower article "Shrink Silage Shrink" provides some of the key things that need to be done.

ENREC Field Day: A field day was held in April 2018 to showcase the research being conducted at the Eastern Nebraska Research and Extension Center (ENREC) on integrated cattle and cropping systems. For more information, you can read the proceedings.

On-Farm Research and Demonstration: Winter hardy small cereals like cereal rye can be planted after soybeans to provide early spring forage. Research was conducted at Knuth Farms to evaluate the impacts of planting and grazing cereal rye on subsequent corn yields.  The result of this research was reported on p 30-31 of the 2017 Nebraska Extension On-Farm Research report.

New Article

Winter Hardy small cereals, such as cereal rye, winter wheat or winter triticale, offer the opportunity to grow forage in early spring that can be harvested before a warm season cash crop is planted. But which species should you plant and at what stage should you harvest these forages? Check out this article to learn the answers: "Could small cereal silage fit your operation?"

"The Value of Grazed Corn Residue for Crop and Cattle Producers" - The income of crop producers from corn residue grazing is often over looked but it is worth much more than many might think. Corn and cattle producers can both benefit from winter grazing.

Corn residue can be a valuable feed resource for beef producers. The feeding value of baled corn residue will depend on harvest method and can be significantly improved by ammoniation. Want to know more? Check out the Progressive Forage article "Not all corn residue bales are created equal."

Interested in using rye or triticale cover crops for spring grazing? Check out the article "Cereals Provide Spring Grazing Option" in the 2018 Hay and Forage Grower magazine written by Mary Drewnoski, Beef Systems Specialist.